Episode #21: Jason Lau — Chief Operating Officer of Okcoin

Episode #21: Jason Lau — Chief Operating Officer of Okcoin

Last updated:
January 10, 2023
Total length::
22 min
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Cryptocurrency, Crypto
DeFi, CeFi, TradFi

Crypto is more than just currencies it's a canvas for creativity Jason Lau, COO from OKCoin believes. We speak to him about OKCoin platform and how new technologies are empowering new use cases. Jason Lau teaches us the lesson's they've learnt from Crypto Winters this week in the Finoverse.

Walter Jennings: Welcome to Waves in the Finoverse. I'm Walter Jennings, the host of a podcast brought to you by Finoverse. We're talking with the wave makers creating ripples, waves and tsunamis across finance, crypto, FinTech, Web3 and beyond. Listen weekly to hear the changemakers talk firsthand about their experiences in this dynamic industry.

Welcome to Waves in the Finoverse. I'm your host, Walter Jennings. And joining me is Jason Lau, the Chief Operating Officer of Okcoin. Welcome, Jason.

Jason Lau: Walter, thanks for having me.

Jason Lau with Walter Jennings during the Singapore FinTech Festival 2022

Walter Jennings: For those who aren't familiar with Okcoin, can you kind of give us an elevator pitch, we're on the 20th floor, the lift doors have closed and you're on?

Jason Lau: All right. We're a cryptocurrency trading and management platform. We're headquartered in San Francisco, we're founded in 2013. We serve as both retail and institutional users and over 180 countries.

Walter Jennings: Oh, well, we haven't even made the 15th floor, you crafted that up. That's fantastic. Now, a cryptocurrency platform, that's not an exchange, that's different from an exchange?

Jason Lau: I like to think we do a little bit more than an exchange. Okay. And part of what we focus on is making sure users really understand their journey into crypto. So learning about what crypto is, what crypto can do for them being able to buy and sell, which is similar to what an exchange would offer, but also manage, be able to earn staking and yield rewards on top of their existing crypto.

And we have a beautiful app that allows you to see just a fantastic portfolio view of how your whole crypto portfolio looks like. So we'd like to think we're a little bit more. So that's why I use that word platform today.

Walter Jennings: Yeah, no, I mean, the ability to not only trade crypto, but also to stake provides all in one platform, I guess.

Jason Lau: And we're very excited actually about the educational piece about it, especially here in Singapore, where, you know, the regulators here are really much about talking about crypto as a utility. That's important for us, too. We want people to understand why they may want to get into crypto.

Walter Jennings: You know, it's part of the reason we introduced this podcast is because there's some lack of knowledge and people associate crypto with volatility, when instead there are so many really positive societal use cases for blockchain and crypto and more. So it provides benefits, there are risks as with everything, but tell us some of the benefits that you see of Okcoin.

Jason Lau: Yeah, so for us, our focus is really on getting users to understand and very easily and seamlessly go from their local currency into the world of crypto. And I mentioned earlier, all the features we do offer, buy, sell, manage, and stake. But beyond that, we also allow people to withdraw their assets, we actually encourage people to withdraw their assets and explore the wider world of  NFT's, DeFi, Web3 and all that I think there's a lot of exciting things happening out there in the broader crypto space too.

Walter Jennings: After three years of travel restrictions, it's nice to see the world opening up and to see the explosion of technology that's been occurring over the last three years, what are some of the technologies that you're following? And what interest you these days.

Jason Lau: I think the NFT space has been particularly interesting to me. I just love to see all the creators be empowered, new tools, new business models. I think that's fascinating. I think that's - yes, we've had sort of that volatility, like you've mentioned. But you know, if you take that step back, the amount of opportunity that this new realm, this new canvas affords creators globally, it's just astounding and I think that's going to be an area where we will certainly revisit in a year, two years, many years later.

And then obviously, you know, things like DeFi and GameFi. I think we're still in the early stages of figuring out what works and what doesn't. We saw what happened with Terra Luna. That was an example of something that did not work.

Walter Jennings: We've covered a lot of territory just in that short sentence. DeFi is decentralised finance, GameFi is game finance.

Jason Lau: Yes.

Walter Jennings: And then we talked about the challenges in some of the stable coins. But I want to go back to the explosive growth we had seen in NFT's. And I think that was a great first use case of rewarding the creators. And now I'm hearing of NFT's for educators where you're able to tokenize curriculum and other use cases. So it seems like, well, art was the first big use of NFT's. We're seeing multiple opportunities going forward.

Jason Lau: I haven't heard about that one specifically. And, to be honest, not all use cases will work out. But I love the fact that there is this tremendous amount of energy and experimentation out there, crypto blockchain and NFTs.

Also, it's a pure form of digital ownership, right. And that's something that we haven't had in our history. You know, with Bitcoin, Inception, 14 years ago, we now have this ability to actually own things that are digital and scarce, right. So this is a bit of a ground changer.

Walter Jennings: It really is. It really will revolutionise the way we approach intellectual property, finance, the unbanked, those without identity, really does open up a wider world. Now, as a chief operating officer of a fast-growing company, what keeps you up at night?

Jason Lau: We are currently in a crypto winter as deemed by, I think even the Wall Street Journal had that on their headlines earlier this week. And I think with that means we have to keep in mind a few things. And our company was founded in 2013. We've been, it's almost been 10 years. So we've gone through quite a few of these.

And you know, the lessons that we take back every time is that look during the winters, during these bear markets. These are the times to build. And so for us what that means is we're building in our team, we're building with our team. We've been hiring engineers, we've been hiring lawyers, we've been high in compliance, but we've been working on our entire infrastructure stack, including working with regulators around the world, expanding our licenced coverage.

We are currently licenced in the US. We're licenced registered up in Canada, in the EU, we have a business in Japan licenced by the FSA over there, and we're working on our licence right here in Singapore with the MAS. And so that's a lot of effort.

Walter Jennings: It's interesting to see the way that crypto and other platforms have embraced regulations, because it provides some certainty, not only for the retail investors, but particularly for the institutional investors. So I understand that we've seen great growth in institutional interest in digital assets. How's that been for Okcoin?

Jason Lau: Absolutely. So like I said earlier, we serve as retail users as well as institutions. For institutions, the bar is particularly high, when it comes to who they work with. And especially financial firms, right? There are legal teams, there are compliance teams, there are all these standards. And so our institutional clients obviously make want to make sure that we are licenced, and as regulations get more clear, globally. It is, I think that is really the last or maybe next obstacle to get rid out of the way from institutions really diving further into crypto.

And we've been having tonnes of conversations with our clients, with institutions around that. And a lot of them are kind of eager, and they're kind of sitting on the sidelines and partially in a wait and see mode, but ready to put that finger on the button. When things clear up.

Walter Jennings: We mentioned crypto winter, I think there's a broader winter in the macro economic environment. But that hasn't really taken the foot off the accelerator of institutional adoption. I guess they've been waiting for many of these challenges to be overcome that would allow them to trade and own crypto. And how are you seeing the growth of the institutional market for Okcoin?

Jason Lau: Yeah, for us, obviously, with the broader market, volumes and activity have declined and prices have declined. I think that those are very visible signs of what the crypto winters impact has been. But behind the scenes, like I mentioned earlier, when we talk to our clients, there's tremendous interest in making sure that they are well positioned and set up because again, it takes time for these institutions to navigate all the legal compliance pathways to make sure that they're ready when things turn.

And so one thing that we're doing actually, is, we work we're a member of this industry group called ISDA, which is a financial group of 900 plus financial companies and banks and all around the world to set standards on how it financial institutions trade amongst each other. And so we're one of the few crypto companies on there. And really what we're trying to do is explain to people how crypto work, how do we set those best standards and agreements so that when the time comes and you want to do that trading and agreements, we have those agreements already set up in place, like templates already in place.

So again, this takes time, right? These are lawyers talking back and forth, figuring out the finer points of these agreements. But look, this is what you do during a crypto winter, right? You take the time and see what's missing and building those pieces.

Walter Jennings: One of the differentiators of Okcoin is the emphasis on the importance of crypto research. Why does it matter? And what do you do with that research?

Jason Lau: Yeah, I mentioned this a little bit earlier about education. And just making sure users understand what they're getting into. We don't necessarily want people to fall into the traps of high volatility speculation that does our industry, no good. Nor does it often times does the consumer no good also, right. So it's a fine line. And I think we're still improving. But the bottom line is, what we're trying to do is to make sure that all the information is out there, accessible, and easy to digest way.

So we also have a podcast, maybe you would like to come on to, we have a show once a week where we talk to crypto projects and protocols. And you know, let's just break it down. Right? What are what is this used for? Right? What are you guys doing? And so we spoke a little bit before about the importance of making sure people understand that. I think that's very powerful.

Walter Jennings: It's really why we started this podcast because there's so many misconceptions behind the industry. People just see the headlines on volatility, and they don't understand the use cases. Now, one of the use cases of crypto is financial inclusivity. Let's talk about that. And how that is achieved using Okcoin.

Jason Lau: Yeah, so inclusivity is something that's passionate to us as a company. It's very important that crypto fulfils one of its many purposes, when it was created is to make sure that there is open access, open permissionless access to everyone.

And when you think about financial inclusivity, a lot of the reasons why there is such a problem is that the existing financial system is by design gated system, you have to clear each checkpoint after another in order to get an ID card, in order to get a bank account, in order to get all these things you have to be.

Walter Jennings: And there are many parts of the world where you're not immediately issued a birth certificate

Jason Lau: Agree exactly. And so by nature, crypto is open, right? Yes, you still need a phone or you need some way to access the internet. But once you have that, anyone can access the protocols natively. And I think that's super exciting. What I just want to emphasise one thing that we are doing as a platform to enable understanding of that and promote that is that. We've actually set a goal for our platform by 2025.

We want to make sure at least the disparity between men and women on our platform is broken, right, we set a goal publicly that we will commit dollars, I think we put up a million dollars to spend over the next few years on efforts to make sure that there is that we do break down that barrier and make sure that women in particular understand that crypto. Yes, it could be a financial play, but you don't have to treat it like all the other financial things and just let someone else in the house will take.

Walter Jennings: We have an earlier podcast episode with the founder of Women in crypto and we were talking about the challenges of women in the industry, especially with kind of that crypto bros culture, the backward wearing baseball caps and air superiority

Jason Lau: 100% and our CEO Hong Fang, she's very supportive of this initiative and obviously driving it also. One lady in particular I would like to call out and someone that we've put some money behind to support her as part of our crypto for All Initiative, a nice lady, a lady called Anita Posh. She's based out of Austria, but she goes to Africa, Zimbabwe, all these places around there.

They're literally sitting down and showing people how to use a wallet, how to set up a Bitcoin node, how to do all these things? What does it mean for you as someone that is not maybe already connected to the existing financial system, it's very powerful when you take some time to look at all the stories and videos of her out there. And when people get it, they're very excited. Right. And I think we're just proud to be one of the many people that are supporting her work.

Walter Jennings: Yeah, but, Jason, there are so many barriers to entry. I mean, I remember earlier days when you had to go to get figure out an exchange, how do you get money there? How do you move money? And so there are challenges at Okcoin, there clearly is an emphasis on CX or customer experience, the interface, how do you make this easier?

Jason Lau: Look, it's a challenge, I think, for the broad industry, and one that we are so focused on trying to solve. We've actually just hired 60 additional engineers out in the US over the past 12 months, because we recognise that there are just a lot of problems with that user experience, right? Again, I bring it down to making sure user understands what they're doing fully well, that this is what they want to do.

And then when they want to do it, make it so seamless and easy for them to get through that process. And that's where, that's what we're focused on. And I think we've done a pretty good job. I mean, I'd encourage you, anyone check out our app and try it out. But, you know, we have work to do.

Walter Jennings: Now, one of the challenges that we spoke about earlier is that there has been some instability, how do you provide user protection to enable trust?  

Jason Lau: Walter, you're referring to just broad market volatility?

Walter Jennings: I guess, I'm talking to you earlier, you'd mentioned some of the stable coins that had problems and people see changes. But I want to understand if I am an Okcoin customer, how do I have kind of a protected and safe experience and avoid some of the challenges that have rippled through the market?

Jason Lau: Yeah. So I think it's important to delineate between the platform and the markets themselves, right, obviously, can't protect people from their investment decisions. But I think as a platform, we do try very hard to make sure that obviously, user security, fund security is paramount, right, that is the basis and core of user trust. We have been fortunate or prudent to have not had any incidents over our length of our history.

And a lot of that boils down to making sure we are right up at the top in terms of best practices and standards, in terms of security, and also user tools to make sure they secure their own account. We also want to challenge the industry to up our best practices as a whole channel. Crypto industry is unique, because we face new and different security risks than existing FinTech companies and banks out there.

Walter Jennings: How so?

Jason Lau: We deal with the blockchain number one, right? These are immutable irreversible transactions. And they all have different risks, right? There's if you support 10-100, different, you have to monitor every single one, you have to run the nodes, you have to make sure that you understand what software you're running to access the blockchain. We have security teams, making sure all that stuff works.

Walter Jennings: We've had a number of the CEOs of blockchain foundations on our show. And it's amazing the proliferation of different chains, the use cases for them, their native coin, there's an endless variety.

Jason Lau: Yeah, exactly. And each one of those may have a potential different security risk. And I'm talking about a little bit more technical, but these are things that could end up impacting the user. And we want to make sure that we mitigate those as best as we can.

Walter Jennings: We're going through a growth phase, even in what some are calling a crypto winter, and we're seeing an explosion of new firms. Clearly, the market can handle 1000 different chains. Eventually, will we see some consolidation winners and losers?

Jason Lau: My take is yes. I think we're in this stage where there's a lot of experimentation going on. And I think it's great, right. But as the use cases get more defined, I think we will see users and developers gravitate towards certain chains and I think you already kind of see certain chains have an under certain changes kind of have been designed for or have been working more for different use cases.

I mean, I could take Solana, for example, which has discovered sort of that, a lot of finance, sort of quick, you know, finance applications that require quick back and forth activity, have sort of landed on that chain. So you know, we'll see but I'm expecting that there will be some consolidation.

Walter Jennings: We try,Jason, to end our episodes with a segment we call tracks in the Finoverse. And we ask people what song really powers their journey as they continue in this world in what song comes to mind for you.

Jason Lau: You know what, when you asked me that I think of crypto as being so important and so necessary for sort of future development for all of us. And so the song I'm going to go with is one about winning and one about a good spirit. We Are the Champions by Queen.

Walter Jennings: Oh, amazing. Well, we've not had that song before it. We'll turn it over to our listeners so they can hear a little bit more Freddie Mercury and Queen and less of Jason Lau the CEO of Okcoin and Walter Jennings your host on the Finoverse. Thank you so much

Jason Lau: Thank you.

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